Science Questions

The key SEARCH questions enumerated in the SEARCH Implementation Strategy, and listed below, serve as concrete and specific guides to implementation. These questions will not remain fixed throughout SEARCH research efforts; as questions are answered, new ones will arise. It will be the responsibility of the SEARCH participants and leadership to evaluate repeatedly the list of questions.

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Question 1: How can we best characterize the composition, scales, and persistence of the recent complex of changes?

  1. What are the key characteristics of Arctic Change in space, time, and persistence (e.g., oscillation vs. secular change)?
  2. Which variables of the Arctic system, beyond those already recognized, are key elements of the change?

Question 2: Are the climatic components of the Arctic Change consistent with natural variability, or are they anthropogenic?

  1. How unusual is the change in the context of modern, paleo, or model-based results?
  2. What is the association between increased greenhouse gases and the observed change?

Question 3: What are the critical interactions among ocean, ice, land, and atmosphere as they relate to Arctic Change?

  1. Do stratospheric processes drive AO variability?
  2. Do albedo feedbacks from snow and sea ice extend the duration of melt season anomalies?
  3. How much of the AO trend is driven by processes outside the Arctic?
  4. What impact do changes in terrestrial runoff have on Arctic Ocean circulation?
  5. Do changes in ocean circulation such as the diminution of the cold halocline and changing freshwater pathways contribute to maintaining Arctic Change?
  6. How do land surface changes dampen or reinforce Arctic Change through changes to energy balance, hydrologic balance, hydrologic cycles, trace gas fluxes, and ecosystem function?
  7. What will be the role of changes in precipitation and soil moisture on runoff, ecosystem function, and ocean circulation?
  8. How do changes in marine biota provide feedback?
  9. How do changes in shelf circulation influence the availability of nutrients to phytoplankton in the Arctic?

Question 4: How are global climate and Arctic Change coupled?

  1. Is the Arctic capable of causing rapid climate change on hemispheric scales?
  2. What are the roles of changes in freshwater and ice fluxes in Arctic Change?
  3. What is the role of arctic and sub-arctic ice and freshwater fluxes in modulating global thermohaline circulation and meridional overturning circulation?
  4. How does warming associated with Arctic Change affect sea ice and can it initiate ice-albedo feedback?
  5. How do atmospheric and oceanic circulation changes associated with Arctic Change affect sea ice and do they initiate ice-albedo feedback?
  6. What is the association of Arctic Change with storm tracks and meridional heat transport?
  7. What is the effect of Arctic Change on radiatively active trace gas exchange of arctic and sub-arctic ecosystems with the atmosphere?
  8. How do changes in heat and moisture contrast between land and ocean in arctic and sub-arctic regions influence atmospheric circulation, such as the location of the arctic and subarctic fronts?

Question 5: How does Arctic Change interact with biogeochemical cycles?

  1. How are the key biogeochemical (e.g., C, N, P, S, greenhouse gases, and contaminants) cycles coupled with Arctic Change?
  2. How are biogeochemical cycles of terrestrial ecosystems affected by changes in precipitation?
  3. Is Arctic Change affecting fluxes of dissolved and particulate matter from land to sea (e.g., coastal erosion) that, in turn, influence ecosystem dynamics?
  4. How will Arctic Change influence the mobilization of constituents such as marine clathrates and permafrost carbon that are legacies of past environments?
  5. How might Arctic Change affect the transport and deposition of airborne and waterborne contaminants (pollutants)?

Question 6: What changes in populations, biodiversity, key species, and living resources are associated with Arctic Change?

  1. What impact does Arctic Change have on living resources (biomass, diversity, distribution, health, physiological status, and annual biological phenomena [phenology])?
  2. How does Arctic Change, as reflected in populations, biodiversity, key species, and ecosystems, interact with driving forces such as harvesting and cumulative impacts of regional development?
  3. How do changes in species composition and trophic dynamics associated with Arctic Change affect ecosystem structure and function, including biogeochemical cycles?
  4. What are the most sensitive biotic indicators of Unaami (e.g., indicator species, genetic change, demography, and recruitment, abundance.)?

Question 7: What are likely effects of Arctic Change on the health and well being of arctic residents?

  1. How might Arctic Change affect marine and terrestrial subsistence and commercial harvests and associated ways of life in the Arctic?
  2. How does Arctic Change interact with other changes (technology, markets) and social change?
  3. How might Arctic Change interact with other changes to affect arctic human settlements, transportation systems, and economic development?
  4. How might Arctic Change interact with other changes to affect the spread of diseases, health of resources and people, and quality of life?

Question 8: How can we characterize the adaptive responses of arctic communities?

  1. How have arctic people adapted to past environmental change?
  2. How do social factors (institutions, social structure, information flows, empowerment, social capital, human capital, infrastructure) affect the contemporary adaptive responses of arctic communities to Unaami and other coupled change?

Question 9: How might Arctic Change affect people outside the Arctic?

  1. How might Arctic Change affect arctic and subarctic fisheries?
  2. How might Arctic Change affect species and habitats of special concern? (e.g., arctic migratory species, endangered species)
  3. How might Arctic Change affect transportation, resource development, and other economic activities?
  4. How might Arctic Change affect international relations and national security?
  5. How might Arctic Change affect energy use and cost?